Trolls can’t stop arguing with a Twitter bot


    Trolls have never looked more ridiculous. Neither has the state of civic discourse today. For the last month, a Twitter bot named “Liz” with the handle @arguetron has been tweeting seemingly innocuous statements in order to bait the most bigoted users on Twitter into endless and time-wasting arguments. And it’s worked.

    Bot creator Sarah Nyberg aimed to write tweets that weren’t overly aggressive or harassing. She simply makes generic left-leaning statements like “sexual objectification is wrong” or “islamophobia is real and also bad” once every ten minutes. The bot then automatically responds to anyone who replies to any one of the tweets.

    Other example tweets include the following:

    The bot never uses hashtags or seeks out people to target. Trolls and outspoken members of the alt-right movement are simply finding it by searching for hot-button keywords in a quest to pick fights online. One user even kept the argument going for a straight 10 hours.

    The most fascinating aspect of this social experiment is how Nyberg could get some people to continually argue with the bot by replying to them with random missives that added nothing to the discourse. You could be arguing about feminism, Donald Trump, or islamophobia. The bot gave the exact same responses no matter the topic.

    “So many arguments, especially on a place like Twitter, are almost content-neutral,” Nyberg told the Verge. “You can swap one argument out for another and the context is almost irrelevant.”

    Nyberg credits another Twitter user Nora Reed as the inspiration for the bot. Reed is known for making her own Twitter bots under the Honeybot project as a sort of performance of social criticism. Not that any of this is succeeding in changing hearts and minds on the internet. They’re really just lures for the worst trolls looking to start online fights.

    One 2014 study pointed out that Twitter is “not an ideal public sphere for democratic conversations” and that “individuals from the bottom social hierarchy not only interact less but also provide lower quality comments in inter-ideological communication”. It’s no wonder Nyberg’s generic canned responses could keep people engaged for hours.

    But as long as the trolls are mistakenly taking out their anger at bots and not real people, you could look at accounts like arguetron as a public service. On the other hand, you can’t help but ask what humanity has come to.

    Kelly Paik
    Kelly Paik writes about science and technology for Fanvive. When she's not catching up on the latest innovations, she uses her free-time painting and roaming to places with languages she can't speak. Because she rather enjoys fumbling through cities and picking things on the menu through a process of eeny meeny miny moe.